I have a new post on Psych Central. The link is here. It would be great if you would pop over there and give my other blog some love. Thanks!
Yesterday I wrote a blog post about what schizophrenia is and what it is not. This post is similar but rather than look at the personal (stories about me) I am looking at how people view severe mental illness on a national level.
This election cycle was difficult for many people to get through. The things that we had to listen to on the nightly news were vulgar, intolerant and upsetting in so many ways. We experienced Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, mocking of the disabled, and then those of us who have a mental illness experienced something else: we experienced more insults and misunderstanding than I have encountered in the twenty plus years since I received a diagnosis.
Insulting language about mental illness was everywhere I looked. It filled up my Facebook feed: lunatic, unhinged, crazy, bat shit crazy, insane. It was in mainstream newspapers and used by pundits on the nightly news. Derogatory language about mental illness had become the norm for those who normally fight for marginalized people.
Seeing so much reference in a negative way about mental illness was startling and painful enough, but the reasons why people were using that language was even more alarming. People were confusing intolerance, hate speech, aggression, bigotry, misogyny, sexual assault and all manner of other disturbing things with symptoms of mental illness. None of those things have anything to do with mental illness.
I have symptoms like, depression, anxiety, auditory hallucinations, tactile hallucinations, visual hallucinations, social anxiety, lack of motivation, and isolating socially to name a few. As you can see, none of the things I mentioned as symptoms have to do with discriminating against, disliking, or being intolerant of other people. Also, none of them have to do with aggression.
What people did, millions of people, during this election is make being a racist, sexist, etc. into the definition of mentally ill and those things are not connected. This climate of inappropriate and inaccurate cause and effect impacted me so much I am only now able to write about it. Since the election, I have only seen this addressed once in an article on a news outlet like Huffington Post (I think that is where it was but I can’t be sure).
I felt as if all the social justice people completely abandoned the mentally ill and the nation decided that whatever unfavorable characteristic someone displayed it was due to mental illness. It was as if the title mental illness had become a dumping ground for all the things people find distasteful in others. We became not the trash collectors, but the trash.
Since so few people recognized that this was happening, and did nothing to change their language, I am sure that we will see much more of this over the next four years. The progress the mental health community achieved over the past few years in educating people about mental illness may very well be eroded by the current political climate. I hope the damage is not severe. Those of us who have once again been characterized by the media and the public as “bad” people will suffer the consequences of this latest wave of ignorance and misunderstanding.
It is my pet peeve when someone calls themselves or someone else schizophrenic. I am a person with schizophrenia, not a schizophrenic.
There is a popular nonprofit that publishes personal stories from people who have schizophrenia and other disabilities. The writers of these personal essays frequently call themselves schizophrenic along with the VP of the organization. I feel, and of course, this is only my opinion, that the nonprofit that wants to raise awareness and reduce or eliminate stigma should, at least, be educating people about “people first” language.
I don’t have a right to insist that other people use “people first” language, but I do have a right to educate people that I find illness first language degrading and defining and way outdated.
Everything I write on my blog here and on Psych Central is to show that people with schizophrenia have endless labels or roles (lawyer, teacher, coach, student, brother, sister, wife, husband, mom, dad, etc.). Those labels are far more important than the fact that they have an illness called schizophrenia.
I have read several essays recently where the person who is writing the essay writes, “I am a schizophrenic.”
I don’t wear schizophrenia as a badge. I’m not proud of it (I’m not ashamed of it either) but you won’t find me parading that label around as if it is the only thing about me that is important.
It is the least interesting and important thing about me.
I’m sorry if you are tired of reading this same message over and over again. I feel like it is something I will write hundreds of times before I stop writing. In my time as an advocate, if I get that one message to stick with people, I will feel that I have done something extremely important.
Lovely, lovely, whole, beautiful people, please don’t limit you by defining yourself as an illness. The world is a marvelous, wondrous, and big place, you are a significant part of it, your illness is tiny, don’t let it overtake you.
Last night I watched the documentary, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine. I remember hearing about his murder back in 1998. About ten years ago my husband and I went to a play called, The Laramie Project. The play was also about Matthew’s death.
In case you are too young to remember, Matthew Shepard was a gay college student in Laramie Wyoming who was savagely beaten with the base of a gun and then tied to a fence for I think eighteen hours before someone found him. He was in a coma for a short time before he passed away. He was twenty-one years old. Initially, the two young men wanted to rob Matthew (and they did), but the horrendous beating of Matthew was a hate crime because the young men knew he was gay.
The part of the film that stood out most to me is while one of the young men who murdered Matthew walked into the courtroom he winked at people watching him. Every time the camera filmed him he was holding back a grin. It seemed to me that that young man believed he had done something right and honorable by beating Matthew and that people would agree with his actions.
That is a result of words like fag, homo, and the n word. It is also the result of words like a maniac, psycho, etc. When it is an acceptable practice to call people names, the process of dehumanization is at work. That dehumanization puts people at risk of violence. After all, if someone is a fag or n***** or psycho they are no longer, Rebecca, Brian, Joseph, Carla or a real person. They become something less than human they become something undesirable, something to be scorned, or even beaten and hated.
In the city where I live, there are often incidents of people beating up homeless people for fun. Yes, you read that right. Some young people have peed on them, had them do degrading things for money, and beat them for the fun of it. The paradox in this situation is that the people who usually commit these atrocities against the homeless are not terrible people. They are usually average young men out drinking with friends. The problem is that many people have dehumanized the homeless so that these young men think it is funny to degrade and hurt them. It is a joke. In their minds, they aren’t criminals they are just having some fun.
Many mentally ill people have been savagely beaten and killed, too. So have people of color and other minorities.
Recently it has become popular to fight against anything that is “politically correct” or “PC”. Not using derogatory language when referring to people is not being politically correct, or following some rules of “PC” language and behavior. Not calling people names can help save lives. I don’t imagine all the people that are angry about feeling they are being forced to use certain language would have a problem keeping people from being peed on or beaten.
There is such a backlash against using “PC” language, and people feel those who support it are being too sensitive. It isn’t too sensitive to want your loved ones to be seen and treated as human. In my opinion, so much hatred starts with words. I feel like most people don’t want to hurt other people, but they are exposed to so much of this breaking down of other people’s humanity that they don’t see certain people as fully human anymore.
The important thing is to make sure all of us, every single one of us, are looked at as people and not less than, or nothing, or someone that doesn’t feel, or matter.
If it means less hate crimes, less beatings, less harassment, less meanness toward others, I will be the first to try and change my language. I think freedom comes with responsibility to one another. If changing my words can help someone else, I’ll gladly do it. Yes, I will do it for you, and you, and you.
Anne Lamott, Art, caitlyn jenner, college, damaging, emotional, language, LGBTQ, mental illness, mentally ill, people of color, POC, politically correct, the atlantic, trigger warnings, writer, writing
I spent some time with my niece this weekend, and she sent me an article to read about the language being challenged on many college campuses. In the article, the writer points out that in the 1980’s and 1990’s, we had a movement that pushed politically correct language – to change language that was considered demeaning to marginalized populations. If the writer of the article is correct, today there is a movement on college campuses not to use words that are “emotionally damaging” to students. This movement has made it necessary to put “trigger warnings” on some of the classics and to pull some books and ideas from classrooms altogether. Many teachers are not allowed to talk about rape or violence.
What I came away with is if you are a considerate person (not looking to harm or offend anyone) then it is difficult to talk about a myriad of issues without feeling insecure. It is almost easier not to say anything than to discuss these issues/topics and have a constructive, educational debate where both parties may learn from each other’s position.
I know I often feel fearful about talking about race. Recently, I have felt fearful writing about disability (even though I have a disability). I don’t feel completely comfortable talking about LGBTQ issues, and I occasionally even shy away from gender issues. Add those issues to the now “emotionally damaging” issues and you have a wide range of topics/issues that create fear and silence.
Taking books out of the curriculum and having people feel uncomfortable to begin even a conversation isn’t going to move us forward. Moving forward requires reading, talking, debating, and writing. If people are not willing to do any of those things, we will be stuck. There will be no progress.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a rant about Anne Lamott’s words about Caitlyn Jenner and about using the phrase manic depressive to describe someone who clearly wasn’t mentally ill. You can find my rant here. I want to apologize to her. I don’t want to silence her. I want her to make her mistakes openly and let there be a public discussion around them (which is what happened when she made an inappropriate comment about Caitlyn).
We need people to be fearless. We need people to talk about the issues surrounding marginalized populations, rape, violence, etc. We need these discussions. We can’t pull books, stop talking about negative social issues (rape and violence) and make others feel backward and stupid for not knowing the correct language to use to address a minority group.
I don’t know what to do about the censoring of “emotionally damaging” language. I am not a part of academia. I can read articles, talk to young people, and try to educate myself about what is happening there. I can speak out when I have more knowledge about it.
I do know what to do about speaking about marginalized groups, though. Those of us who are a part of a marginalized group need to let people talk without being defensive. We need to allow people to make mistakes. If it turns out that those mistakes are being made from a lack of education (not malice), then we need to either point them out gently or take the time to build a relationship with the person. In other words, we need to influence people over time not shame them and run.
I consider myself an advocate for people with severe mental illnesses. I consider myself an ally to those people who identify as LGBTQ. I consider myself an ally to people of color. I am a woman and support gender equality. No matter how passionate I am about any of these things, I want to remember compassion and gentleness for all people not just the ones I am trying to support.
Language is in trouble. Communication is in trouble. Books and essays are in trouble. Teachers are in trouble.
Silence isn’t going to bring us a society without rape or violence or a society that automatically supports the marginalized. That takes art and communication. Let’s support the fearless that are unafraid to step out and make mistakes so there can be conversations because it is those conversations that help open all of our minds.
Here are two articles I posted on Psych Central recently.
I hope you have the time to pop over there and read one (or both) of the articles.
Today I wrote on my Psych Central blog about the use of language. The post is called, Language: Don’t Shame An Ally. It is about the “schooling” I received at Thanksgiving dinner, and how it taught me how not to treat people that use derogatory words about mental illness. If you have time, please read it and let me know what you think. Can you think of ways to help people understand how their language hurts us without shaming them? I’m very interested in your thoughts.
Earlier this week, I wrote on Psych Central about talk therapy. The post is called, Talk Therapy To Treat Schizophrenia? I have really strong opinions about this, but they are more from personal experience – my experience with therapy has been horrible, but I know it is a critical part of treatment for others. I don’t believe it is a complete treatment for schizophrenia though. What do you think?
My husband and I were driving back from Flagstaff Arizona yesterday where I attended a four day writing conference. In Yuma we stopped at a Love’s gas station. A young man with a yellow shirt, braces, glasses, and a big smile held the door open for us. Both my husband and I thanked him, and asked him how he was doing. “Great! It is a nice day today.”
My husband and I headed off to the restroom, and then met up at the coffee station. They didn’t have any liquid creamer that wasn’t flavored so I chose Almond Joy for my coffee. I don’t normally like flavored coffee, but we were on the road and being on the road requires many things outside of my norm or routine.
When we went to the cash register to pay, the young man that held the door for us started to ring us up. “Are you having a nice day? He asked.
“We have been driving all day.” I said.
“Where did you come from?” He asked.
“We came from Sedona and Flagstaff.” I said.
“I want to go to Sedona. That is on my list.”
“It is so beautiful with the red rocks all jetting up to the sky. There is a church there, called Church of the Holy Cross that you have to visit if you go.” I said.
“Is the church in the rocks?” He asked.
“Yes, it is. You can see the whole canyon from the altar. Behind the altar is one big window looking out. The architect was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright’s.” I said.
“I can’t wait to go.” He said.
We said our good-byes and as we were walking to the car my husband said, “He may not know who Frank Lloyd Wright is. Not everyone knows or cares about the history of architecture.” My husband said.
I immediately regretted the reference to Wright. While trying to build a connection with that young man I had severed the tie by parading my knowledge of architecture. If he didn’t know who Wright was I had built a wall instead of a bridge. I had put myself above him. I had shown my education and experience. In essence I had waved a card of privilege – a privilege to care about art and architecture, traveling, etc. Sedona is only a few hours from where he works and he has never been there.
I should have known better. The same thing happens to me when I am reading many writers, and they will make a reference to a Greek God, a philosopher, or a long dead writer and I will be lost by the reference. The writer will have put distance between themselves and me – they will have upped me in education and their knowledge of culture or history. I know with Google I can easily look any reference up, but the negative feeling it generates, the space it creates between me and the piece of writing, I often don’t care to look it up. I often give up on the piece and say, “This is over my head. This is too academic. This wasn’t written for me.”
I know how it feels to have someone else’s privilege (college, graduate school, possibly a PhD), or even world travels – references to places, or food, or art, or architecture – all of these things made reference to without an explanation making it seem like, “Of course, everyone knows this!”
I don’t want to push people away I want to find ways to bring them closer. I want to hear their stories and to possibly tell mine. I want to hear their hopes and dreams or be a witness to their heartbreak and pain. I want to speak simply, not because people can’t understand, but because many people haven’t had the opportunities that some of us have been lucky enough to have. That doesn’t make a person dumb, or uneducated. It may mean they have had to focus on a going to work from a very young age, or taking care of a sick parent, or maybe they know all the words to every Star Wars movie.
Who is to say what knowledge is anyway?
If we really want to reach people we have to think about our audience. Maybe some of the writers I read aren’t writing for me, maybe they are writing for people just like them, but that isn’t true of me. I want to be accessible to everyone. It’s more important to me to build a connection than to show you where I’ve been, what I have studied, the culture and history that I know.
Let’s get down to the real stuff that makes up life – let’s build a bond so I can find out what makes you cry or what makes your heart beat faster. That’s where living is, not in a reference to a dead architect.
I belong to a blogging group on Facebook where bloggers can ask each other questions about traffic, fonts, product endorsements, etc. One blogger, a medical student, posted that she received an e-mail from someone on the Internet saying that her blog name was offensive. The blog name was a play on the diagnosis of OCD.
I am not going to reveal the name of the blog here, because I don’t need to cause myself any problems, but she asked the members of the group if they thought the name of her blog is offensive (she even said the psychiatry students thought it was “cute”). There were nearly 200 comments on this thread and some people tried to explain that, yes, the name is offensive, because it makes a very serious issue something light, fun, and playful. Most people (probably 99%) wrote that they thought people needed to stop being so sensitive, and to stop being so easily offended and basically to lighten up.
This was one clear example of trying to keep the status quo, and trying to keep a marginalized and voiceless community in their place. I don’t think anyone would dare tell a person of color that something they considered to be racism wasn’t really racism and they just needed to lighten up, stop being so sensitive and quit being offended by “every little thing.” The very act of telling a person of color those things is racism.
People don’t get to define what life is like for those of us with a mental illness. They don’t get to define what language we find offensive, hurtful or cruel. Many times in my life a person who is gay or a person of color has asked me not to use a certain word. I have always apologized, and discontinued the use of the word. I don’t try to defend myself by saying, “lighten up” or “stop being so sensitive.” I have believed those people’s experience of the world and of language. It is time to start believing people who have a mental illness.
After the medical student with the blog, asked her question about the name of her blog, she wrote, “Do you think I am just being paranoid?” I think this proves she has bigger problems than just an offensive blog name. I think she needs to go to sensitivity training before becoming a doctor. She proudly wrote to everyone in the group that she had already gone through her “psych rotation” All I can say is those poor patients. Honestly.
I made it! I accomplished something big. I went to a writer’s conference in Minneapolis (AWP15) for six days.
I only ran into problems once. I had an anxiety attack on the plane on the way there. The attack lasted about seventy-five minutes and was difficult to handle at thirty thousand feet in the air, but I survived.
As always, my husband was a trooper. He tried to calm me down the last half of the flight, but none of his usual tactics worked. I just had to live through sweaty palms, a racing heart, a nervous leg, and the feeling that I wanted out of my skin.
My husband was worried about how I would handle the actual writer’s conference, because there were thousands of people there, and so many panels, talks, readings, and of course a book fair with hundreds and hundreds of booths. My husband thought I would get overwhelmed, over stimulated, and have a minor breakdown.
I didn’t. I fell in love. I was so happy. I felt like I was at my very best.
I only went to two of the talks and panels. I found what interested me was the book fair with all the journals, presses, MFA programs, book signings, etc. I spent three whole days going from booth to booth to booth. Many of the booths I went to twice.
Although when I am at home, I spend the majority of my time alone without talking to any people, I was so talkative.
I told stories and jokes like how I accidently walked into the men’s bathroom, saw a man, screamed, and ran out. As they laughed, people assured me that would be the low point of my day.
I told people that I write poetry and creative nonfiction, but that I can’t write fiction, because my brain doesn’t work that way.
I told two editors that I mostly write about schizophrenia, because I suffer from it, and they were both interested in my work. One gave me his card, and told me to e-mail him some story ideas.
We saw snow for the first time in ten years.
We ate in some cool restaurants. One was called, Hell’s Kitchen. We tried to taste the local food. My husband had walleye fish prepared three different ways. We tried cheese curds, artichoke bruschetta, munched on tater tots, and had one of the best flat breads I have ever tasted. We tried local beers (well, my husband did, I don’t drink).
To let you know where my priorities are, I ended up bringing home over sixty pounds of journals, and books, and had to leave half of my clothes in Minnesota to do it.
I’m back now, and ready to write!